Crystal Care: How to Clean Crystal

When properly cleaned and cared for crystal glassware can last for many generations. Here's how to clean crystal, with a special look at cleaning techniques, materials and best drying practices.


crystal wine glasses with bottle

When we think of heirloom items passed down to us, fine crystal glassware often comes to mind. Unfortunately, it is left with no instructions to help you preserve this treasure and pass on to the next generation. Let's start by learning about crystal.

People usually refer to this extremely fine lead containing glass as "crystal" or "lead crystal". The weight, brilliance and sparkle of crystal comes from added lead oxide. Full lead crystal contains 24% lead oxide, while optically clearer half-crystal carries 18% and weighs less. The lead content "softens" the glass. The ratios of these ingredients in crystal, especially lead, determines quality, price and alterability.

The tenuous nature of your lovely lead crystal flutes, goblets and snifters, means only proper care can carry them to future generations intact. Blake Connoy, co-founder and Managing Director of cleaning services platform Helpling, shares plenty of simple care instructions, using items from your kitchen cupboards. Below are his tips along with others that can help you enjoy your crystal glassware long into the future. Let’s examine a comprehensive plan for fine crystal glassware care.

1. For greater safety, carefully soaking new lead crystal in vinegar, for at least 24 hours, may prevent lead leaching into liquid containers.

2. Wash your crystal before your first and every use. First, take any rings and other jewelry off before handwashing crystal glassware.

3. Hold stemware by the stem during use. Holding it by the bowl or foot may create stress, separating the two or three pieces which form stemware.

4. To prevent a sink spout from damaging crystal, use a rubber nozzle or move the tap away after filling the sink.

5. Wash crystal before any food hardens. Soak any caked-on food or dirt on lead crystal overnight in water with one tiny squirt of mild dish soap and about 1/2 teaspoon of fabric softener. The crystal should clean without rubbing the next morning.

6. Hand-wash your crystal in warm, soapy water. Use a small amount of soap or a mild, non-abrasive detergent, in a large plastic or wooden bowl of lukewarm water and a soft, non-lint producing cloth.

crystal glassware in shelf

7. Hold crystal by the bowl, never its stem, while washing it. When washing and drying, do not twist the bowl opposite the stem. Also, washing the interior and exterior of crystal together creates pressure, eventually leading to cracks.

wine cart with glass

8. Since sulfur in rubber can darken precious metals, don't cushion a sink or drainboard with it. Instead, before washing stemware ornamented with gold, silver, or platinum, cushion the area with a folded towel.

9. Absolutely always hand-wash crystal with 24 karat gold, silver or platinum accents. To avoid damage, wash metal-decorated stemware in lukewarm water and allow it to cool before handling. Place large items in the water sideways, to transfer heat more evenly by adjusting the temperature of the glass article to the water.

10. Never pour very hot liquid into crystal, or expose it to any rapid temperature changes.

11. Before you store any crystal, always check for water spots by holding each piece up to light. Use vinegar on a soft, lint-free cloth or a soft sponge to remove any stains that remain, (especially from hard water mineral deposits) or soak them away with a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water.

12. To prevent staining crystal, regularly wash any crystal used for liquid storage after removing their contents. Both red wine and brandy stain crystal especially easily. Since flowers chemically change water, change water in crystal vases daily.

13. Narrow necks may complicate getting down to a vase's bottom with your cleaning cloth. If a bottle-brush doesn't reach, fizz an effervescent aspirin or denture-cleaning tablet into the bottom of a flower vase. Leave overnight and rinse clean for a spotless vase.

14. To remove stains inside containers, use uncooked, dry rice as a mild abrasive. Pour a handful of uncooked rice grains into an empty decanter and swirl the grains around to remove stains.

15. If a decanter can’t stand on its head safely, use a large saucepan for your drying rack. Cushion the inside of the saucepan with a towel and rest the decanter against the padded side.

16. A small, soft brush can precision clean grooved crystal articles.

hanging crystal

17. If your crystal shows clouding or haze, you may escalate to a hard water stain remover like CLR or Lime Away.

18. To avoid damage, do not store or dry crystal stemware resting on its rim. The weight of the bowl and stem can stress and fracture the lip, the most fragile element of stemware. So, always stand or store this fragile crystal either upright (perhaps in a quilted stemware storage case) or hung by its base from a rack appropriate for stemware.

19. Store crystal stemware in a clean, dust free environment, not on newspaper or glass. Newspaper absorbs sodium oxide from glass, which can cause haze. Store crystal away from direct sunlight, heating outlets, or air conditioner vents.

crystal in dishwasher

20. Never store crystal inside another, or in contact with anything which can transmit shock or heat unevenly.

21. Similarly, to avoid accidents, hold no more than one crystal pieces per hand at a time, particularly those with outward flaring rims.

22. After cleaning, avoid streaking by rinsing in water with a small amount of vinegar or rubbing alcohol. The alcohol or vinegar will help prevent streaks.

23. If you need your glasses right away, hold them individually (by the bowl only) and pat rather than rub them dry with a lint-free terry cloth towel or microfiber towel. For best results, use a tightly woven towel to dry crystal ornamented with cut decoration without clogging the engraving or scratching the crystal surface.

24. If your crystal breaks and you can save it, only use a clear-drying epoxy made specifically for glass to glue it back together.

25. Smooth any glass nicks using a fine sanding file from a hardware store. Or take the chipped piece to a glass house for professional grinding.

26. Tap a stuck glass stopper gently with a pencil or loosen it by running warm water or warm soapy water into the neck of the bottle to remove it.

crystal and rose by sink